We tend to think of a relationship as an instinctive thing, built up over a period of time during which intimacy and trust are established. Things either work, or they don't - either way, there's not much we can do to affect the outcome.
But what if love is an active process, the conditions for which can manipulated and accelerated via a series of set questions between two people?
That's the premise of a 1997 experiment by psychologist Arthur Aron that was re-created in a recent New York Times piece by Mandy Len Catron titled, "To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This".
In the original experiment, State University of New York professor Aron tested the hypothesis that two people who are willing to feel more connected to each other can do so, even within a short time.
He created two groups of people and divided them into pairs in each group. The pairs chatted to each other for 45 minutes, with one group engaged in small talk and the other using a set of questions (below) that gradually became more intimate. Unsurprisingly, the group who asked the revealing questions of one another felt more connected at the end of the experiment, and one pair from that group even found themselves in love six months later.
"One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure," the authors concluded.
Writer Catron decided to test this idea that being made to reveal your inner thoughts and feelings (forced vulnerability, in other words) leads to closeness quickly, in a real-life meeting with a university acquaintance.
The setting was admittedly unscientific - "we were in a bar, not a lab" - and it broke the original premise slightly by the fact that Catron and her companion weren't complete strangers. But as she says, "I see now that one neither suggests nor agrees to try an experiment designed to create romantic love if one isn’t open to this happening."
Using the experiment as a springboard to the forging of their relationship, the two of them asked each other three sets of 12 questions, which became increasingly personal:
"The questions reminded me of the infamous boiling frog experiment in which the frog doesn’t feel the water getting hotter until it’s too late," says Catron. "With us, because the level of vulnerability increased gradually, I didn’t notice we had entered intimate territory until we were already there, a process that can typically take weeks or months."
They finished things off by staring into each other's eyes for four minutes. "Two minutes is just enough to be terrified," Catron says. "Four really goes somewhere."
So did it work?
"You’re probably wondering if he and I fell in love. Well, we did," Catron concluded. "Although it’s hard to credit the study entirely (it may have happened anyway), the study did give us a way into a relationship that feels deliberate. We spent weeks in the intimate space we created that night, waiting to see what it could become.
"I’ve begun to think love is a more pliable thing than we make it out to be. Arthur Aron’s study taught me that it’s possible - simple, even - to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive."
So if you're more of a believer than a sceptic, try out your own version of fast-forwarded love with the 36 questions, below. At the very least, it'll be a laugh and a way to break the ice if the conversation dries up on a speed date. And it could spark the kind of intimate bond that leads to proper, enduring love - you never know...
The 36 questions that create the conditions for love to thrive
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a "perfect" day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true "we" statements each. For instance, "We are both in this room feeling _______."
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share _______.”
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
Could a questionnaire like this really help to create the conditions needed for love to thrive? Or is the kind of bond needed to build a relationship completely beyond our control? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, below.
Words: Anna Brech